Blu ray Review #1: King Kong Escapes (1967)

I thought I drop a review on some of the blu-ray DVDs I’ve picked up lately, and I figured I’d start things up with this fun little number. King Kong Escapes was not, as you might expect, based on the original King Kong (1933) or the popular King Kong vs. Godzilla, which I think still ranks, adjusted for inflation, as the most profitable Godzilla movie in the franchise.

KKEscapesNo, this movie was based on the cartoon series The King Kong Show, which hit American small screens between 1966-1969. It, like the movie, was produced by Rankin/Bass, which is perhaps better remembered for the many stop-motion animated holiday TV specials they produced, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerThe Year Without a Santa Claus, and the movie Mad Monster Party.  This was a co-production between the company and Toho Studios, much like The Green Slime and The Last Dinosaur. 

Most people look at King Kong Escapes as probably the worst Kong movie every made. And mainly they’re looking at that atrocious gorilla suit. Much like the aforementioned KK vs. G, there wasn’t a lot of money spent on the primate star of the movie. Even Bob Burns’ legendary and somewhat ratty suit would’ve looked better on screen then the plasticine-faced monstrosity we were shown. You can see seams a-plenty, flaccid lower arm extensions that often make it look like Kong has two elbow joints, and a flap on the back of the head that has a tendency to flutter when the hero gets tossed around too much.

But if you discount that suit, this is actually not a bad movie. The special effects are really top notch for a G-rated movie, the sort directed at kids – it’s head-over-heels better then most of Daiei’s Gamera output of the same era. The miniatures, for the most part, are as good in any of the good Godzilla movies, and even the green screen work is exemplary.

This film was the first appearance of the monster that would later become known as Gorosaurus. He’s pretty much just a dinosaur, though with a kangaroo-like predilection for jumping and kicking opponents. The suit is one of the best dinosaur presentations of the pre-CGI era, and looks really good.

The acting is hammy and on a kids’ level. Dr. Who, played by Eisei Anamoto, is dubbed by the inimitable Paul Frees, star of many dubbed kaiju flicks over the century. Rhodes Reason stars as UN Commander Carl Nelson,  and does a good job as the square-chinned male lead. He appeared in an episode of Star Trek and in a barn full of action oaters. He was the younger, nearly identical brother of Rex Reason, perhaps best remembered for This Island Earth.  Linda Miller was a model who worked in Japan, and this was one of only two movies she appeared in (the other was The Green Slime). She’s pretty, but really dull as a performer. Akira Takarada portrays the other male lead, who appeared in loads of kaiju flicks for Toho. The sultry Madame X was Mie Hama, who appeared in numerous Japanese films and hit international shores in the James Bond vehicle You Only Live Twice and the dubbed Woody Allen film What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

I know the film kept me rapt when I saw it on the CBS Late Night Movie back in the seventies.  It’s just a fun little monster flick. The highlight of the movie was the Robot Kong that Who created from Nelson’s plans. When I first saw the movie, I was amazed at how cool the robot looked, and the opening sequence where Robot Kong attempts to uncover the Element X deposit was spellbinding on a 9-inch black-and-white set. Yeah, I was easy to please back then. Oh, and while every source seems to note this, the robot was never called MechaniKong, no matter how cool that name might sound.

The Blu ray DVD of King Kong Escapes was put out by Universal Studios in 2014. The print they use of the film is pretty good – at least I didn’t notice a lot of film scratches, and I didn’t see any pixelation or any problems with the playback. The disc is barebones, having only a commercial for Ultraviolet (which, naturally, doesn’t cover THIS movie), and nothing else. No trailers, no behind-the-scenes…not even a menu. But with Amazon Prime, it only case me $8.99, so it wasn’t a big loss or expenditure either way.

I love monster movies, and this one is no exception. Many people will grind it down for the Kong outfit, but any viewing that chooses to go beyond that will see a fun, kinda goofy movie, with some otherwise pretty good production values. Definitely something every kaiju fan should see.